Authentic Protest, Authentic Shakespeare, Authentic Africans: Performing Othello in South Africa


Othello has long been understood as a play that relies on race and gender to make sense. Modern productions cannot help but be about the operation of difference, however they choose to understand Othello’s blackness. The historical complexities of these constructs – race, gender, difference – have been grist for the academic mill, if not always reflected in the choices made on the stage. This essay examines the performance history of Othello in terms of the representation of racial and gender difference. It focuses on one production, Janet Suzman’s 1987 South African Othello, in order to suggest that the performance of race and gender in the play is inextricable with the location of that performance, and the cultural history of Shakespeare. The essay addresses the question, what can Othello mean in South Africa? What did it mean in that specific production? Suzman's Othello is one example of what might be performed in South Africa when “Shakespeare”, icon of Englishness, colonialism, and culture, is performed. As such, it suggests the possibilities and limitations of the play’s performance of difference, and the relationship between what the play can mean and the time and place of its performance.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.